Gamestyle Archive intro: time may have forgotten Capcom’s Onimushi series but it was a huge hit and extremely popular. I’m sure it was also one of Darran’s first reviews for Gamestyle. However this is a preview from 2001.
Published: March 2001
GENRE: Survival Horror/Action
ACCESSORIES: memory, vibration
RELEASE: Europe July 2001
The PS2 at the moment seems to be a haven for all things Japanese, we’ve had the tactical Kessen, the slashing Dynasty Warriors 2 or the plain awful Orphen and with Seven Blades on the horizon the trend looks set to continue. Onimushi is currently one of the biggest selling PS2 titles in Japan and America but can we expect lavish visuals and gameplay or just another cross-dressed Resident Evil?
You are Akechi Samanosuke a warrior and your mission should you accept it, is to rescue the kidnapped princess Yuki and stop the evil Oba Nobunaga and his samurai army from taking over the country. Of course many demons and creatures of varying appearances and attributes will stand in your way. Hence the title Onimushi which roughly translated means “demon warrior” and “ghost.” Onimushi is set in feudal Japan circa 1560 and does have some historical fact except the developers have taken an artistic license and put the undead into the game. The world at this time is one of darkness, magic and rampaging warlords always looking to gain the upper hand. I suppose survival horror wouldn’t be the same facing everyday native Japanese warriors or unhappy peasants. The costumes, items, weapons and environments are all realistic of the period and no doubt this has increased the realism. The FMV footage from the introduction to the end is of stunning quality and was the winner of the Siggraph best of show award. No expense has been spared by Capcom in hiring Flagship who were involved in the Resident Evil series or the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra to provide the atmospheric and wonderful soundtrack that matches the excellent audio effects.
A noticeable twist comes with your first of many weapons, known as an Elemental Sword, which feeds on the spirits of your victims – Soul Reaver style and is upgrade-able. Apart from increasing the power of the sword and the range of attacks available, the experience points gained can be used to open new areas. To balance this Capcom have made sure that you are open to attack when you are collecting a spirit before it vanishes. This helps to speed up your actions and adds planning into battles with multiple foes. The combat system is excellent if not a little straightforward and the slicing and dicing of anything in your way remains enjoyable throughout unlike Dynasty Warriors 2 – partially due to the buckets of blood and gore on offer.
As the game is from the creators of Resident Evil many of the features that you associate with the popular series are to be found in Onimushi. The oddly positioned camera angles, control system, inventory/combining of items and pre-rendered backgrounds are included. It is disappointing after seeing what can be done with real-time environments (Shenmue) on an arguably less powerful machine that Capcom could not have given the title more of an 128 bit feel and its own identity. The press release is quick to mention the revolutionary “background animation” technology which the game utilises. This applies to realistic weather conditions, animals, waterfalls etc. but all these wonderful effects just heighten the sense of disappointment with the pre-rendered backgrounds. Certainly the lighting effects, speed and number of enemies on the screen at anyone time have all been improved greatly. Yet fighting multiple foes does tend to expose the shortcomings of the fixed camera angles – you can’t fight what you can’t see on the screen but it sure can take a swipe at you.
The reviews from Japan and America pinpoint problems with the game that should have been addressed long before its release on the PS2. I noted in my Silent Hill 2 preview how refreshing it was to have character animation that was realistic, for instance upon running into objects and walls; the character would out-stretch their arms. In Onimushi, just as in Resident, your character will continue running against a brick wall and of course won’t walk up stairs. Capcom have based the animation and main character on leading Japanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro but surely he doesn’t act like this in real life? Adding to negative aspects are the loading times between rooms and the fact that many while finding the game enjoyable, think it isn’t scary or shocking enough to warrant the Survival Horror tag. You do however get to control another character as the story unfolds, Kaede, a ninja with some great moves who would fit into the Tenchu series.
Puzzles feature thankfully to a lesser degree in the game and with varying degrees of difficulty – yet you cannot help but think that the developers could have thought of another way to add depth to the gameplay. The linear nature of some puzzles i.e. find the key to open the door is made even easier as the three-dimensional items themselves standout easily against the pre-rendered backgrounds. The actual story contains many surprises that I won’t spoil except to say that the ending and ensuing epilogue create more questions than they answer.
Further feedback indicates that the game is on the short side and shouldn’t take long to complete. On average you are looking at around ten hours for most first time players with the more experienced chopping off 3-5 hours. Capcom to their credit have addressed this potential problem with the inclusion of a Ranking System. This system leads to various extras such as weapons, costumes, the Oni Spirits sub game and an extra difficulty level made available to those who can achieve the necessary ranking. Also hidden on the disc is the trailer for Onimusha 2 which comes as no surprise as since its release in Japan on 25th January it has sold over 900,000 copies to date.
It does remain to be seen whether Europe receives the unedited Japanese cut or the trimmed American release. From what we understand the censorship relates to a transformation sequence involving a female character and no doubt the amount of blood involved may offend the usual Daily Mail readership. Perhaps Capcom in 18 months time will release the Directors Cut? I hope not as it would tarnish what promises to be an enjoyable – if limited and short game.